Jill Wellington
Michigan, USA

© All Rights Reserved

07-04-20: I feel blessed to live in Saginaw, Michigan a small town scraping the northern edge of the United States that oozes midwestern Americana. Winter here swirls up some doozy snow and ice storms, that I gleefully track each year. As a photographer winter is my favorite time to be out with my camera shooting portraits and whatever I find! But, the first two months of 2020 were warm, dull, and dreary. With no snow, I didn't shoot anything. Little did I know those would be minor annoyances. Life was about to explode into a much bigger natural force!

In early March, we started hearing about a virus coming from China. My friend told me she stocked her fridge and freezer, which at the time seemed excessive to me. I was busy planning a St. Paddy's Day party with my kids and other family members coming from various corners of Michigan. We toasted with Irish coffee and worked a big jigsaw puzzle together. I was giddy enjoying some family fun!

We watched the news and learned the virus had spread to Detroit where my son and his girlfriend live. The newscaster also announced new warnings to not gather with people because the new Corona Virus could spread. "Stay inside except to shop for essential items!" It was too late for us - my family from all over the state was already gathered in our home!

Within a week, my daughter Lindsay, a high school guidance counselor, called to say the schools were closing for a month. Wow! That's worse than one of our typical snow storms! Each day brought confusing new warnings, closures, and most noticably, emptying shelves at the grocery store. I am a journalist and was a broadcast news reporter for 18 years. I felt compelled to document this frightening pandemic. I took my camera or phone with me everywhere and shot whatever I saw in front of me! I felt the utter importance of capturing this time in our history. We all lived it - in our own way - in our own parts of the world. Here is my photo-essay of how it was in Saginaw, Michigan in 2020!

The grocery shelves emptied fast as fear spread and frantic panic buying ignited. We all felt frightened and shellshocked as the abrupt thud of COVID-19 halted our lives!

Most people did not wear masks in March and April. We didn't own masks, we had never worn masks, and were told by medical experts that we didn't need to wear them. If we ran out of milk, we went to the store and bought it.

The biggest oddity: People bought up toilet paper in bulk, a fenzy of panic buying. What happened to all the toilet paper?

We struck gold when a new shipment arrived while we were in the store!

Newspapers boldly displayed dire headlines, especially from Detroit, one of the hardest hit cities in America. COVID-19 cases also spread to Saginaw, but I never knew anyone who had the virus. Michigan's governor, Gretchen Whitmer, locked our state down tight with stay-at-home orders, and business closures. My Goddaughter, Alexis Hagan, was on the front lines of the pandemic in Detroit as a physician's assistant. I sewed her some hair covers. I also sewed a few masks as more and more people needed them. Eventually, our governor required masks to be worn in public buildings.

No more eating in restaurants, pick-up and carry-out only!

Traffic pretty much ceased on roadways, playgrounds and parking lots were eerily empty.

Churches cancelled Easter services, schools remained sadly silent.

The security guard at our little airport was lonely as flights were cancelled or never scheduled at all.

Signs of the times:

Michigan limited stores to selling only essential items. We could see and feel other items, but we couldn't buy them!

Sign, sign - everywhere a sign!

Same with masks!

Everything was sanitized or barricaded. We had never seen anything like this in our lifetimes!

Michigan's lockdown went on so long that 77-year-old Paul Manke opened his barbershop against the state's shut-down order, declaring he was about to lose his business. "I have the right to make a living!" Customers and supporters came for haircuts, and protestors gathered outside of his barbershop. Reporters interviewed him, and the case made international headlines. Manke's license was suspended, but later, the Michigan Supreme Court re-instated it.

In late May, heavy rains fell on mid-Michigan, which eventually collapsed the Edenville Dam upstream from Saginaw. More than a billion gallons of water from Wixom Lake gushed down river to Sanford Lake, overflowed the Sanford Dam, then carried houses, boats, docks, and debris down the Tittabawassee River, devastating Midland, and eventually flooding parts of Saginaw!

Eleven-thousand people rushed to evacuate. Two huge lakes were suddenly GONE!

Major roads collapsed along with buildings!

This combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, life in Mid-Michigan was exhausting, puzzling, and downright frightening!

COVID-19 took a huge toll on businesses. The mall opened in June, but with strict sanitary and social distancing regulations, most people were afraid to venture out, and the corridors echoed with emptiness. Unfortunately, many businesses closed forever. I finally got to renew my driver's license, but waited in a line outside, and like everybody else, entered by appointment only.

The world remains entrenched in the COVID-19 pandemic as I write this essay. In fact, here in Michigan, we have new restrictions because of an alarming spike of new cases. I will continue to take photographs and document this stunning time in global history.


Jill Wellington is a portrait photographer and journalist living in Saginaw, Michigan. She is committed to photographing the COVID-19 pandemic and the momentous year of 2020 as she experiences it in her community.